Todd Wiss, the former executive chef at Black’s Bar and Kitchen, disputes owner Jeff Black‘s explanation as to why he was let go earlier this month at the Bethesda restaurant. The dismissed toque says he was called into a meeting on Dec. 2 and told that Black’s could “no longer pay my salary” because of declining revenues.
“I was shocked. I was floored,” Wiss says. “You don’t expect that kind of thing to happen” right before the holidays.
Wiss says he was never given any indication that his management style clashed with Black Restaurant Group philosophies. Nor did he get any indication that management disliked his cooking. When I asked Wiss if he thought the economic excuse was legitimate, he said the weekly numbers were “definitely down, but not to the point where you take an ax and start cutting people.”
“At the end of the day, if they didn’t want me there, that’s fine,” Wiss adds.
When reached by phone, Black denied Wiss’ depiction of events. Black admits that economics played a role, but not in the way that Wiss describes. Wiss’ salary, in fact, was smaller than that of Black’s previous toque, Mallory Buford. The main problem, Black says, was that Wiss ran his food costs in the 38-40 percent range, when 33-34 is the norm for Black’s. The owner says his former chef also ran higher labor costs, employing extra personnel on garde manger and pastry.
Black says he tried to talk to Wiss about lower food and labor costs, but, “for whatever reason, [he] didn’t want to follow them.”
Hence, Black says, the parting of ways.
In the meantime, Wiss says he’ll “hang low” for a while, before aggressively looking for another chef gig. “It’s pretty dry out there now,” he says.